“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”
John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist.
Jesus withstands Satan's temptations in the wilderness.
Some of John the Baptist's disciples decide to follow Jesus.
A study of this lesson will inspire us to draw near to the Savior by repenting of our sins, keeping our baptismal covenants, and withstanding temptation.
Scripture references for study: Matthew 3–4; John 1:35–51
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 4 Handout (PDF format)
Prepare The Way Of The Lord
John's mission foretold.
READ ISAIAH 40:3-5. The voice of John crying in the wilderness.
READ 1 NEPHI 10:7-10. Nephi reviews Lehi's prophecy about John.
John's Calling in the Spirit of Elias.
John's divinely appointed role was as the Elias, forerunner, and witness of the Messiah.
WHAT IS THE SPIRIT OF ELIAS?
Joseph Smith: "...the spirit of Elias was a going before to prepare the way for the greater, which was the case with John the Baptist.... The spirit of Elias is to prepare the way for a greater revelation of God, which is the Priesthood of Elias, or the Priesthood that Aaron was ordained unto. And when God sends a man into the world to prepare for a greater work, ...it was called the doctrine of Elias, even from the early ages of the world." (TPJS, p335)
THREE ELEMENTS HAD TO BE IN PLACE FOR JOHN THE BAPTIST TO FULFILL THIS ROLE OF ELIAS. WHAT WERE THEY?
Must have been appointed in his premortal life?
Joseph Smith: "Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was." (TPJS, p365)
To be legally entitled to be a high priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, John had to be of the firstborn lineage among the sons of Aaron.
John was the firstborn of Zacharias, a priest of the family of Aaron.
John's mission was to be the living embodiment of the law of Moses.
The law of Moses was the "preparatory gospel" functioning under the Aaronic Priesthood.
As the link between the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he had to be one who fully lived the preparatory gospel.
Robert J. Matthews: "He (John) was the right person to be the final representative of the law of Moses in its capacity as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. He bridged two dispensations by being the last legal representative of the law of Moses and, at the same time, being the one preappointed to introduce and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord." (Ensign, Jan 1991)
The Time & Setting (see The Mortal Messiah, Volume 1).
Summer, AD 26 (according to Bruce R. McConkie in The Mortal Messiah, v1).
John is thirty years of age and begins his ministry of preaching and baptism.
In six months the Lord will begin his ministry.
It was a time of spiritual darkness.
Rome ruled the world.
The world enshrined everything that was carnal, sensual, and devilish.
There were no accepted standards of morality.
Tiberius Caesar - emperor of Rome.
Ruled with all the despotism of Augustus.
Reveled in all the vices of Caligula.
Pontius Pilate - Roman procurator (governor) in Judea.
An evil underling of Roman.
Held contempt for the Jewish people and their religion.
There were many disturbances in Judea during his time in power.
He was eventually removed from office due to a disturbance in Samaria.
Herod Antipas - tetrarch of Galilee.
A man that ruled in lust and evil.
Eventually deposed by Emperor Caligula and banished to Gaul.
WHERE DID JOHN GET HIS AUTHORITY?
READ D&C 84:26-28. Ordained by an angel.
He was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb.
Baptized as a child.
Ordained by an angel at eight days of age to his mission as forerunner. According to Elder McConkie, this ordination was not John's ordination to the priesthood. "We do not know when he received the Aaronic Priesthood, but obviously it came to him after his baptism, at whatever age was proper, and before he was sent by one whom he does not name to preach and baptize with water." (Mortal Messiah, 1:385)
Joseph Smith: "The Levitical Priesthood is forever hereditary—fixed on the head of Aaron and his sons forever, and was in active operation down to Zacharias the father of John." (TPJS, p319)
Thus, it would seem that John's ordination by an angel was to bestow special keys and to ordain John to his unique calling. The Aaronic priesthood was on the earth and there would have been no need for a restoration from the heavens.
John spent some time in the desert as a period of trial, testing, training.
Joseph Smith: "When Herod's edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zacharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey." (TPJS, p261)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie indicates that it is only speculation that John was a Nazarite and lived his entire life in the desert.
Elder McConkie: "We can think of no good reason why the Lord would send one of his servants off into the deserts for thirty years to prepare him for the ministry. Men are prepared to serve their fellowmen by associating with them and by learning of their foibles and idiosyncracies and how they will react to spoken counsel and proffered help." (Mortal Messiah, 1:385)
Elder McConkie also believes that John had a wife and children: "That he was married, had children, and lived as normal a life as his ministerial assignments permitted, we cannot doubt." (Mortal Messiah, 1:385)
WHAT DID JOHN DO TO PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE LORD?
READ MATTHEW 3:1-6. John preached in the wilderness of Judea.
Taught the people.
Elder McConkie: "No one is ever prepared for the Lord until he confesses and forsakes his sins, until he repents, until he is baptized for the remission of sins. And the fact that John was to prepare 'a people' for the Lord means that a people--composed of a host of individuals--had to set their houses in order, be baptized by him, and await patiently the coming of Him who would give them the Holy Ghost." (Mortal Messiah, 1:386-387)
READ MATTHEW 3:7-10. The children of Abraham must also repent.
Many Jews believed that since they were of Abraham's posterity, they were assured a place in the Messiah's kingdom.
WHAT DID JOHN TEACH THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES ABOUT HOW A PERSON IS CHOSEN IN GOD'S KINGDOM?
Every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down.
All must repent.
HOW MIGHT WE MAKE AN ERROR SIMILAR TO THESE EARLY JEWS?
John taught a higher gospel (see Luke 3:10-18).
He taught a gospel of love.
He taught of the Messiah who would soon follow.
John was the link between the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT THAT SOMEONE PREPARE THE WAY FOR JESUS?
Ran before the chariot of the King.
They cleared rocks and other obstacles from the path.
Loudly proclaimed the coming of the ruler.
John was a forerunner. In a sense, he performed the same function of the ancient forerunners in preparing the way for Christ by:
Single-handedly challenging the network of apostasy that existed among the leaders of his people.
Proclaiming the imminent coming of the Messiah.
His influence extended to individuals who would later become the Apostles and special witnesses of the Lord.
Andrew followed John's teachings to find Jesus (Peter was his brother).
It appears that John the beloved was also a disciple of John the Baptist.
Peter seems to suggest in Acts that many, if not all of the Twelve, had been tutored by John.
We also have a commission to be forerunners in preparing the way for the Second Coming of the Lord.
READ D&C 65:1-6. Given to Joseph Smith and all Latter-day Saints.
The Prophet Joseph Smith summarized John's mission: "The question arose from the saying of Jesus—'Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.' How is it that John was considered one of the greatest prophets? His miracles could not have constituted his greatness.
"First. He was entrusted with a divine mission of preparing the way before the face of the Lord. Whoever had such a trust committed to him before or since? No man.
"Secondly. He was entrusted with the important mission, and it was required at his hands, to baptize the Son of Man. Whoever had the honor of doing that? Whoever had so great a privilege and glory? Whoever led the Son of God into the waters of baptism, and had the privilege of beholding the Holy Ghost descend in the form of a dove, or rather in the sign of the dove, in witness of that administration?....
"Thirdly. John, at that time, was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on the earth, and holding the keys of power. The Jews had to obey his instructions or be damned, by their own law; and Christ Himself fulfilled all righteousness in becoming obedient to the law which he had given to Moses on the mount, and thereby magnified it and made it honorable, instead of destroying it. The son of Zacharias wrested the keys, the kingdom, the power, the glory from the Jews, by the holy anointing and decree of heaven, and these three reasons constitute him the greatest prophet born of a woman." (TPJS, p276)
The Baptism Of Jesus
Baptism did not begin with John.
Began with Adam (see Moses 6:51-66).
It was performed throughout the ages prior to John.
The Book of Mormon teaches that baptism was an important part of religious practice prior to the time of Jesus.
Baptism was an established part of life among faithful Jews in John's day.
Not all Jews were baptized at that time due to great apostasy.
We know that John was baptized in his childhood.
Alfred Edersheim (a Christian scholar): "Hitherto the Law had it that those who had contracted Levitical defilement were to immerse before offering sacrifice. Again, it was prescribed that such Gentiles as became 'proselytes of righteousness' or 'proselytes of the Covenant,' were to be admitted to full participation in the privileges of Israel by the threefold rites of circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice--the immersion being, as it were, the acknowledgment and symbolic removal of moral defilement, corresponding to that of Levitical uncleanness." (quoted in Mortal Messiah, 1:397)
Can you imagine what John must have felt when Jesus came to him requesting baptism?
READ MATTHEW 3:13-17. Jesus baptized by John.
READ JOHN 1:29-34. John bears witness of the Lord.
WHY DID JESUS NEED TO BE BAPTIZED?
As noted by Elder McConkie:
- To signify his humility before the Father.
- As a covenant of obedience.
- To receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, "...to conform to the law that gave him the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead. As we are aware, this was a formality only in his case, for he being holy and without sin, the Spirit was his companion always. At baptism he simply went through the form that is required of all men" (Mortal Messiah, 1:402).
- To gain an inheritance in the celestial kingdom.
- As an example to all men.
WHY WAS THE HOLY GHOST SYMBOLIZED BY A DOVE AT JESUS BAPTISM?
Joseph Smith: "The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove.... The sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence." (TPJS, p275)
The Temptation In The Wilderness
Jesus communes with God in the wilderness.
After Jesus' baptism by John at the Jordan, two things happened which always come to pass in the lives of the faithful.
- The Spirit of God descended upon him with power, though in his case that Spirit had ever guided his thoughts, words, and acts.
- Greater temptations confronted him than had ever been the case before.
JST Matthew 4:1-2: "Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil."
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS CORRECTION BY THE PROPHET?
- The King James version seems to indicate that Jesus' main purpose in going into the wilderness was to face temptation.
- The Joseph Smith Translation broadens the scope of the story. The Lord went into the wilderness to commune with his Father, to more fully learn of his mission, to fill his jar so that he may share it with Israel, and to be energized for the difficult mission ahead. The temptations came only after the forty days of communing and fasting.
READ MARK 1:12-13. Jesus was with wild beasts and ministered to by angels.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "Surely the spiritual stature of the Man Jesus was such that for forty days the lions and wild beasts treated him as they did Daniel. Surely the visions of eternity were opened to his view as they were to Paul and Joseph Smith. Surely he saw all that was seen by Enoch and Moses and Moriancumer. Surely there was purpose and preparation, refinement and testing, growth and development, during this period when our Lord's body was made subject to his spirit. Fasting and prayer and pondering and visions and revelations prepare men for the ministry, and it was no different, except in degree, where the preparation of the Lord Jesus was concerned." (Mortal Messiah, 1:409-410)
DO YOU EVER GO INTO THE "WILDERNESS" IN FASTING AND PRAYER, TO COMMUNE WITH THE FATHER? AND WHY WOULD YOU DO SO?
I believe that each of us, periodically, needs to take time to escape into the "wilderness" (a place where we can be alone and not be disturbed) for an hour, a day, a few days and commune with the Father.
- We might well go fasting.
- It is a time to back away from life and contemplate our spiritual progression.
- We may have difficulties that need spiritual direction.
The example has been set:
- The Lord went into the wilderness for forty days.
- Moses went up on the mountain.
- Enos went hunting and cried unto the Lord all day and into the night.
- The Prophet Joseph went into the Sacred Grove.
Few of us have the luxury of going into the wilderness for forty days. But it is important for us to escape to a quiet place where we can ponder and pray upon those things which are most important. It may be behind a closed door late in the evening or early in the morning. It might be a hike in the woods, a walk along the seashore, or just a quiet place in the park.
I have taken the opportunity at various times in my life to escape into the wilderness and spend time pondering the things of God and the direction of my life. In each instance, I have come away with a sense of renewal and a greater determination to live my life more fully in accordance with the will of the Lord.
Several months before my mission, I went on a solo backpacking trip in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. I spent much of my time contemplating my future and what I wanted to accomplish. As I was touched by the Spirit in those quiet surroundings, I was determined to prepare for and serve an honorable mission and later to seek out a bride that I could marry in the temple. I read the scriptures, prayed, and fasted. I came out of the woods more determined to do what is right.
I have had similar experiences since then and each time I feel more determined to do the will of the Lord. Sometimes we are racing down the freeway so fast that we forget to check the map and see where we are going. Occasionally, we need to get off the freeway and contemplate our lives and the things of eternity..
Jesus tempted to change stones into bread.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "When man is communing with his Maker, he is not subject to temptation; when angels are ministering to him and he is under the spell of their angelic influence, he is not subject to temptation; when the Holy Spirit rests mightily upon him and the visions of eternity are open to his view, he is not subject to temptation.... As the period of edification and spiritual enlightenment drew to its close, as the visions and spiritual experiences ceased...and as Jesus prepared to go back into the normal mortal way of life, with angels no longer at his side and his eyes not open to the unending visions of eternity, then the devil came to entice, to trap, to tempt." (Mortal Messiah, p410)
Some theologians speculate as to whether the Lord was capable of being tempted and then able to commit sin. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
- The Savior had a great mission but he, just like us, came to earth to continue his eternal progression.
- Free agency is inherent in that plan.
- Lehi states that there must be "opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11).
- Satan tempted the Lord because he was in a weakened mortal body subject to temptation like all of us.
READ MATTHEW 4:3-4. Tempted to change stones to bread.
WAS THIS A REAL TEMPTATION TO JESUS?
He had been fasting for forty days. Jesus was mortal and subject to the same physical necessities as each of us. He knew that food was necessary to even continue his mortal life.
WHY DID SATAN TEMPT HIM?
He said: "If thou be the Son of God" do this thing.
He was tempting Jesus to doubt his own divinity as the Son of God.
WHAT DOES THE LORD'S RESPONSE TO SATAN MEAN?
The Lord did not doubt his divine nature and would not accept the temptation.
There is more to living than just meeting physical necessities.
This brings us to a most difficult question for ourselves: How does one balance physical and spiritual needs? We cannot survive without meeting our basic physical needs. Are the physical and spiritual needs related?
I remember back to the first few weeks after I returned from my mission. For the previous two years I had been engaged in preaching the word of God full time. I did not have to worry about where I would sleep or if I could eat. Those needs were provided for me by the generosity of my father and others who helped from time to time. Upon my return from my mission, I was thrust back into "real" life. I had to get a job and I needed to continue my education. I was frustrated in leaving the full time work of the ministry and now having to engage most of my time in pursuit of that which would meet my temporal needs. This was a difficult period of transition.
We need to learn to dedicate all that we do to the Lord and the up building of his kingdom. As time marched on, I came to learn that most of what we do can be a part of building up the kingdom, whether the activity seems temporal or spiritual. Working for a living provides for the needs of a family, a sacred trust. Getting an education enables us to not only provide for our families, but can provide valuable skills as we seek to serve others.
Alma counsels us to pray for all our needs. He says to "cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save," but he also says to "cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them." The spiritual and temporal are linked together and we need to remember that. (see Alma 34:17-27)
READ MATTHEW 4:5-7. Tempted to cast Himself down from the temple.
JST Matthew 4:5 reads: "Then Jesus was taken up into the holy city, and the Spirit setteth him on the pinnacle of the temple."
TO WHAT APPETITE DID SATAN APPEAL WHEN HE TEMPTED JESUS TO CAST HIMSELF DOWN FROM THE PINNACLE?
- Desire for a physical sign from the Father regarding His power and love.
- Desire to a have fame among men.
HOW DOES SATAN TRY TO APPEAL TO THIS APPETITE IN US TODAY?
READ MATTHEW 4:8-10. Tempted with the kingdoms of the world.
JST Matthew reads: "And again, Jesus was in the Spirit, and it taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. And the devil came unto him again."
It is interesting to note the contrast in the KJ and JST versions. In the JST version it was the Spirit which transported the Lord. Satan has no power to physically transport the Lord or any other human being.
TO WHAT APPETITE DID THIS TEMPTATION APPEAL?
The wealth and power of the world.
I find it amazing that Satan would try to tempt the "Creator of worlds without number" in such a way.
How many men in the history of the world have longed for such power and would quickly have worshipped Satan for such a prize?
HOW DOES SATAN TRY TO APPEAL TO THIS APPETITE IN US TODAY?
F.W. Farrar wrote: "There are some that will say that we are never tempted with kingdoms. It may well be, for it needs not be, when less will serve. It was Christ only that was thus tempted; in Him lay an heroical mind that could not be tempted with small matters. But with us it is nothing so, for we esteem more basely of ourselves. We set our wares at a very easy price; he may buy us even dagger-cheap. He need never carry us so high as the mount. The pinnacle is high enough; yea, the lowest steeple in all the town would serve the turn. Or let him but carry us to the leads and gutters of our own houses; nay, let us but stand in our windows or our doors, if he will give us so much as we can there see, he will tempt us thoroughly; we will accept it, and thank him too.... A matter of half-a-crown, or ten groats, a pair of shoes, or some such trifle, will bring us on our knees to the devil." (quoted in The Mortal Messiah, p417)
On the other hand, President Kimball Spencer W. Kimball stated that, "great women and men are always more anxious to serve than to have dominion." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p323)
WHY WAS JESUS TEMPTED?
- It provided experiences the Lord needed to work out his own salvation.
- It prepared him to sit in judgment of men, for he also had been tempted.
WHAT CAN THE SAVIOR'S RESPONSES TO SATAN TEACH US ABOUT OVERCOMING TEMPTATIONS?
We need to consider the eternal perspective.
President David O. McKay: "Nearly every temptation that comes to you and me comes in one of those forms [that they came to Jesus in]. Classify them, and you will find that under one of those three nearly every given temptation that makes you and me spotted, ever so little maybe, comes to us as (1) a temptation of the appetite or passion; (2) a yielding to the pride and fashion or vanity of those alienated from the things of the world, or (3) a desire for the riches of the world, or power among men." (Gospel Ideals, p154)
President Howard W. Hunter: "Satan may have lost Jesus, but he does not believe he has lost us. He continues to tempt, taunt, and plead for our loyalty. We should take strength for this battle from the fact that Christ was victorious not as a God but as a man." (That We Might Have Joy, p35)
"Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him." (Matthew 4:11)
This was the Lord's blessing after the temptation, and so it can be with us.
Disciples Of John The Baptist Follow Jesus
READ JOHN 1:35-40. Andrew and John follow Jesus.
The second disciple was John, son of Zebedee according to both Elders Talmage and McConkie.
WHAT CAUSED THESE TWO MEN TO LEAVE JOHN AND FOLLOW JESUS?
John the Baptist was a man both speaking and baptizing with authority. What would cause these two men to leave such a great teacher?
- John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the Lamb of God (see v36).
- John had been teaching that he was the forerunner of the Messiah, so John and Andrew should have been looking for the Messiah.
Certainly their hearts were touched by the Holy Ghost to know that what John had said was true. They turned away from the past and followed the Lord.
WHAT DID ANDREW DO WHEN HE DISCOVERED THE MESSIAH?
He was so filled that he wanted to share the good news.
READ JOHN 1:41-42. Andrew shares the good news with his brother Simon.
READ JOHN 1:43-51. Phillip and Nathanael called to follow the Lord.
Phillip, like Andrew, wanted to share the new found good news.
Five have been called by the Lord to follow him:
John - Andrew - Simon - Phillip - Nathanael.
WHAT KIND OF MEN WERE THEY?
- The Lord said, "Follow me" and they followed without question.
- Men foreordained in the pre-earthly councils.
- Men born in humble families where they were taught not just the law, but to look for the Messiah.
- Certainly they must have been taught to love the Lord and instilled with a desire to learn the truth.
- Most at that time were seeking a Messiah who would be a great political/military leader. These men had open hearts and minds which the Spirit could touch.
HOW EASY WAS IT FOR THESE MEN TO LEAVE THEIR FORMER LIFE AND FOLLOW JESUS?
It seems that good men of all ages are willing to sacrifice everything they have when touched by the Spirit. I suppose it was not easy to turn away from their old life. This change indicates that they were great spiritual giants.
Recall the story of the rich young man who was not willing to sell all and follow the Lord. Not even all the believers are willing to make this kind of sacrifice. These five disciples were willing to give all they had to follow the Lord.
- Brigham Young, Parley Pratt, Heber Kimball, and John Taylor gave up their homes and careers to serve the Lord.
- President Heber J. Grant left a highly successful business enterprise.
- Elders Dallin Oaks and Russell Nelson left highly successful careers to serve the Lord full time.
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for the Lord. His ministry was involved in assisting individuals to prepare themselves to participate in the kingdom of God. He taught them to repent, to be baptized, seek for the true Messiah, and to live a good life. Jesus set the example by being baptized and resisting temptation. We need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord by following in the footsteps of Jesus and heeding the counsel of John.
Record your thoughts on the baptism of Jesus and his temptations. What can you do to resist temptation? How can you better prepare yourself to become a forerunner to the Lord's second coming?